I’ve never been one to color within the lines, so it should be no surprise to my readers that, when I promoted my latest work as a “Romantic” novel…well…this is not going to be the typical “Romance novel”. In fact, I could just as easily market this story as a paranormal romance, a supernatural thriller, or a subtle exploration of Judeo-Christian mysticism disguised as a Dan Brown novel. But the main arc of this story is still the relationship between two people—an art thief and a museum curator—who have strong (if not adverse) feelings toward each other. So yeah…I wrote a “romantic” novel.
As a writer and a wordsmith, I find the word “Romance” to be of particular interest. These days the term carries connotations of shirtless men, passionate kisses, and the obligatory torn bodice gracing the cover. Using its most recent definition, “Romance” novels focus on the relationship between the two main characters, with varying degrees of outside plot, sensuality, or erotic interaction as determined by the expectations of the sub-genre readers. I’ve recently learned that there are even some very specific rules as to what elements should be included or excluded from a “Romance” cover. But “Romance” as it is known today is something completely different than how it was understood 150 years ago. (And no, I’m not just talking about old-fashioned marriage.)
While it is true that I wrote this story with the intention of sharing a few “mystical secrets” about a successful marriage, the reason I use “Romantic” instead of “romance” to describe my story is because of a historical figure, featured prominently in the plot, who was known by historians as the “Romantic King”. He gained this moniker not because he gave his wife flowers or looked good without a shirt, but because of what he chose to do with his life.
In the mid-1800s, “Romantic” was a word used to describe architecture and poetry, not a relationship between two lovers. When I first set out to research the background for this story, I understood this basic truth. I imagined writing about lost treasures hidden in Romantic castles, clues within Romantic poetry, and even a few “Romantic” references to the Roman Empire (from which the word originates). What I did not realize was how the “Romantic King” changed Germany for the better because he did not play by the same rules his predecessors (and successors) followed. Here was a very different kind of love story. In fact, the more I wrote, the more I realized that I was simultaneously writing several other very different, very “Romantic” love stories.
So yes, if you read my story, you will follow a relationship between two main characters that can be classified under the modern definition as a “romance.” But there are several other kinds of love stories in there, too. Perhaps you will find that the most “Romantic” of them all is not the one that results in a torn bodice.